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South America

South America

Author: Ian McConnell
Description:

This lesson will present an overview of the ancient cultures of South America.

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Tutorial

An overview of the art of ancient indigenous civilizations in South America.

Video Transcription

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[MUSIC PLAYING] Hello. I'd like to welcome you to this episode of Exploring Art History with Ian. My name is Ian McConnell. And today's lesson is about ancient indigenous art of South America. As you're watching the video, feel free to pause, move forward, or rewind as many times as you feel is necessary. And as soon as you're ready, we can begin.

Today's objectives or the things you're going to learn today are listed below. By the end of the lesson today, you will be able to identify and define today's key terms, identify the geographical background for this time period, then identify examples of ancient indigenous artwork from South America.

Key terms, as always, are listed in yellow throughout the lesson. First key term is geoglyphs, arrangements of elements of landscape, rocks, earth, gravel. Nazca, a pre-Incan culture located in southwest Peru. Also the name of a city and valleys in the same region. Moche, an early civilization characterized by iconography and monumental architecture.

The big idea for today is that the ancient indigenous cultures of South America are actually older than the more familiar Mesoamerican cultures, and work accomplished artists, architects, and metalworkers. The artwork that we're looking at today falls between 200 and 700 AD right there. And the artwork that we're looking at today comes from Bolivia and Peru, modern-day, neighboring countries that reside within the continent of South America.

There is modern-day Bolivia. There is modern-day Peru. And here's a nice picture of the Andies. So this is pretty rugged country.

Now historically, the South American cultures we're looking at are older than the Mesoamerican cultures of the Olmec and Maya. Now the South American indigenous cultures of the Nazca, Moche, and Tiwanaku were settled in the Andian high country in modern-day Peru and Bolivia.

The first image I'm showing you is of the monkey on the right. And at first glance, it might appear to be a cave drawing or a painting. It might astonish you to point out that this is actually an aerial view of a monstrous land drawing or geoglyph.

The Nazca are probably best remembered for their land images or Nazca line images, like this monkey here. They were made by, literally, drawing relatively wide paths in the earth, removing the darker stones from the Nazca plain where they were made in order to reveal the lighter stone and soil beneath. The true purpose still remains somewhat of a mystery, but theories with support include they were used for ritualistic processions along the lighter color paths or as some sort of symbolic mapping system with a religious purpose.

The Moche were another culture that flourished in the northern parts of Peru, who were expert ceramic artists and kept extensive informational records on their ceramics. This portrait bottle is an example of their skill with ceramics and depicts what may be a warrior or a ruler. It's an impressive example of the level of detail and realism that the artists were able to achieve.

Now as mentioned before, the indigenous civilizations of this area were accomplished metalworkers. These are examples of ear ornaments in gold and semi-precious stone from Sipan, Peru. Now it's another impressive example of the attention to detail that these artists had as each little piece would have been independently cut, shaped, and applied on a miniature scale. These were found with an assortment of other funerary items in a tomb of a warrior priest in Sipan, Peru.

The Tiwanaku civilization existed for almost 1,000 years in and around Southern Peru, Bolivia, and Northern Chile. The monolithic gateway of the sun has today been moved from its original location, but is a rather large block of carved stone with a central doorway. Above which is a carved relief depicting a deity, possibly a sun or sky deity, with rays emanating from his head, some of which and with a puma's head.

Now the puma was the largest predatory animal in this region and would have been a symbol of power. There are smaller attendant figures beneath him. The entire piece would have originally been elaborately decorated. The deity in gold and turquoise inlay, and the lower reliefs colorfully painted.

This is an example of Tiwanakuan stela sculpture, which contrasts noticeably with the realism of the Moche portrait bottle we saw just a bit earlier. It's a very boxy stylized depiction of an individual rendered in shallow relief. Its discovery in a temple and the fact that it appears to be holding some sort of tablet may suggest that it served some sort of religious function or simply as a marker to the entrance of a sacred structure.

So that brings us to the end of this lesson. Let's take a look at our objectives to see how we did. Now that you've seen lesson, are you able to identify and define today's key terms? Can you identify the geographical background for this time period? Can you identify examples of ancient indigenous artwork from South America?

And once again, the big idea for today is that the ancient indigenous cultures of South America are actually older than the more familiar Mesoamerican cultures and were accomplished artists, architects, and metalworkers. There you go. Thank you very much for joining me today. I will see you next time.

Citations

Image of South American Map Creative Commons http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:South_America_(orthographic_projection).svg; Image of Bolivia Map Creative Commons http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:BOL_orthographic.svg; Image of Peru Map Creative Commons http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:PER_orthographic.svg; Image of Andes Public Domain http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Cuernos_del_Paine_from_Lake_Peho%C3%A9.jpg; Image of Nazca Geoglyph of a Monkey, Public Domain, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Nazca_monkey.jpg; Image of Moche Portrait Vessel, Creative Commons, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Moche_portrait_ceramic_Quai_Branly_71.1930.19.162_n1.jpg; Image of Ear Ornaments from Sipan, Creative Commons, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Orejeras_de_oro_Larco_museum.jpg; Image of Gateway of the Sun at Tiwanaku, Public Domain, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Zonnepoort_tiwanaku.jpg; Image of Stele at Tiwanaku, Creative Commons, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Tiwanaku1.jpg

 

TERMS TO KNOW
  • Nazca

    A pre-Incan culture located in southwest Peru; also the name of a city and valleys in the same region.

  • Geoglyphs

    Arrangements of elements of landscape, rocks, earth, gravel.

  • Moche

    An early civilization characterized by iconography and monumental architecture.